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Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Everyone knows it's windy


Most people don't find much humor in typhoons. But maybe that's 'cause they don't look.

I mean, take away the hammering wind and torrential rain, the crippling losses to agriculture and industry, not to mention the related human tragedies that can sometimes number in the hundreds, and . . .

OK, I'm not laughing either.

Still, I don't find such storms all wet. So let's clear the air on Japanese typhoons, shall we? They have much more to offer than hot wind.

To start, I find some security in their timing. Late summer and early fall equals typhoon season. Typhoons that announce their arrival days in advance. It's a nice, tight manageable formula.

I always find myself wishing that Japan's other natural catastrophe — earthquakes — were just as predictable. But no — quakes might hit anywhere, anytime.

Yet never will I open my door one morning to scream, "Holy Moses! It's a typhoon!" What a relief, of sorts.

Japanese typhoons are also softened by their numbering, a practice far more reasonable than that odd Atlantic custom of dubbing hurricanes with names. The numbers are less threatening too.

For somehow it's hard to fear a typhoon named "5." Yet, call it, "Ed," and the dynamic changes. "Ed" might have issues. He might be mean, or nuts.

Humanize the storm with any name and the terror swells. As in, "Typhoon Ernestine will strike Tokyo at dawn." Somehow that makes me want to run. While Typhoon 5 only forces yawns.

I get sleepy with typhoon TV coverage as well. For we always get the same shots.

First, a scene of waves crashing upon concrete shore levees somewhere in Japan. Next, hoarse-throated comments from a newsman in flimsy raingear. The man grips his coat and howls against the storm to announce it is really, really windy.

How informative. I always imagine the editorial staff at the TV station the day before.

"OK, what shots should we get of this typhoon?"

The room of newsmen scratch their heads, until at last a director cries. . .

"I've got it! Let's have someone stand in the rain!"

After years and years of typhoons, I wonder why stations even bother. Doesn't one drenched announcer look the same as the next? It's almost easier to spot the difference in crashing waves.

So why not show stock footage from years before? Who will know? Or care?

And perhaps they are doing just that.

What I would like to see news reporters do is interview those young daredevils who try to surf in the rising waves. Or others who try to perch on shoreline rocks to see the storm approach. You have to locate and interview these people early, you see, because afterwards they might not wash back in.

I want to know why some people rush to greet the storm despite shots of crashing waves and newsmen telling them it is really, really windy. Don't they realize they might get killed? High winds plus high waves equal destruction. It is a nice, tight manageable formula.

A friend tells me the reason is not unlike the curiosity people display with fires. You know, have a house catch fire and a large crowd will always gather to watch it burn. My friend says the same urge drives people to the shorelines during typhoons.

Yet, I don't quite buy it. For with a fire, people only watch. They don't leap in. So I would like to see journalists hunt up some typhoon-riders in advance and ask what makes them tick.

Perhaps we could even track them, the same way weather reports track the storm. In the days — sometimes it seems weeks — before the storm strikes, stations will plot the course on the TV screen, the circular typhoon marks and their tail of progress somehow resembling sperm swimming doggedly for home.

That alone becomes a sort of weather report game — "Follow the Dancing Storm."

But why not do the same with a typhoon rider? Track his jagged course throughout the week and check when he too approaches the shore, when at last valiant man and pregnant storm can stare each other in the eye. I wonder who will win?

Anyway, it beats a sopping wet broadcaster telling me he can feel the breeze.

The final bummer about typhoons — besides the devastation they can bring — is that they often linger on like pushy salesmen who won't take no for an answer.

First, they take forever to get here. Then they make life miserable for hours, maybe even days. And then some have the cheekiness to turn around and come right back. The nerve.

Thank goodness it's just a storm with a number, for if it was Ed or Ernestine, you would swear they had it in for you.

"How long is this gonna last!?" I often find myself screaming.

And the answer?

Is blowing in the wind. What else?



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